20 Jan 2020

Olympic racewalker: The unique Quentin Rew

1:57 pm on 20 January 2020

New Zealand racewalker Quentin Rew has tweeted 20 times from his Twitter account with the exact same message.

Quentin Rew in the means 20km race walk

Olympic racewalker Quentin Rew. Photo: Photosport

"Log off social media. Get some fresh air. Go for a walk. Read a book. Be kind. Reduce consumption. Compare yourself only to the person you strive to be."

It captures the essence of Rew and there is a lot of rationale and reasoning behind his opinions and the things that he does.

In a blog post last year he described Twitter as largely responsible for many of the ills of modern society. But he liked the idea of being a voice of positivity in the "murky twittersphere, of countering the judgement and alternate facts with some simple message."

He openly describes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as corrupt and is one of the appellants in a case taking them to court in a bid to get the 50km racewalk for women at the Olympics.

While he has his opinions, he's definitely not a grandstander. He does things with minimum fuss, doesn't raise his voice, and if people happen to listen that's fine.

It's kind of the way he goes about his training, too, according to his Melbourne coach Brent Vallance.

Vallance was the head coach of the Australian race walking programme - when they still had one - and coached Australia's most successful race walker, Jared Tallent, to three Olympic medals.

Rew moved to Melbourne four years ago because of the strong programme there and rates Vallance as probably the best coach in the world.

For Vallance, Rew is one of the easiest athletes he's ever coached.

"You know if it requires 200 kilometres a week to be this level of athlete he'll just find a way to get it done," Vallance said.

"And he's very, very unique because despite the gruelling nature of the 50km event, it's almost like he's immune from what he's doing. It's about just getting it done. He fits his working life and all the other things around his training, he's very driven to do what's needed."

Vallance said Rew was low maintenance in that he didn't have to worry about him "imploding" come competition time.

"He races pretty much to the level he always trains at so there's no underperformance. You pretty much know what he's going to give you in a race."

Rew was a middle-distance runner for more than 10 years before an achilles injury forced him to retire in 2007.

When I interviewed Rew before his first Olympics eight years ago he told me he chose race walking as it presented the best opportunity to get to the top.

"I was never aiming to be mediocre or to win a regional title or a national title. The intention was always to win an Olympic gold medal so I had those ambitions before I even decided what sport I was going to take up. I've got the opportunity to fulfil a dream … but it doesn't really mean anything if you go over there and don't perform so it's certainly the start of a journey," Rew said in 2012.

Having competed for less than four years, Rew managed to basically coach himself to an Olympic Games and finish in the top half of the field in 2012.

I caught up with him in Melbourne recently, where he works as a physio.

Rew will be 36 during the Tokyo Olympics and isn't sure whether it will be his last appearance at the games.

From the time he first took up the sport in 2008 to around 2016 Rew was pretty happy with his progress, making incremental gains every year.

Since then Rew has hovered around the same level and is keen to improve on that.

Despite the frustrations he's never seriously thought about chucking it in.

"Not really in performance, but the body has started to fall apart a bit in the last couple of years and that's been pretty frustrating to not be able to get the most out of myself. But in terms of performance I still love doing it and still love the lifestyle," Rew said.

Does he ever struggle with boredom in an event which lasts over three and a half hours?

"People often ask that; it's a funny question it's like you don't ask a football player if they get bored after 90 minutes. There's always something happening, there's always changes in the race, the conditions, so trying to judge my pace compared to others. It does really fly by, before you know it you're on the last couple of kilometres."

Fighting for equality

Rew is one of the appellants in a legal challenge pushing to have the women's 50km race walking event included at Tokyo 2020.

American lawyer Paul DeMeester is spearheading the case against both the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the IOC, along with a handful of athletes around the world.

At Tokyo the men can compete in the 20km and 50km distance, while the women only have the 20km event.

"They [IOC] say that they are promoting equality, but they're not allowing the women to race the same as what the men race. There are three races - one for women, two for men, so we're basically saying that's not particularly fair."

The case is before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but all the delays are eating into the time that women have to qualify for the Olympics.

"They've had about four extensions to announcing the decision. The last extension was to New Year's Eve but again nothing. So the CAS process is pretty frustrating. It's set up in a way to basically discourage people from applying because it's so expensive and then even when they say they'll make a decision they keep delaying it."

Rew wasn't able to go to the hearing in Lausanne because of a training camp.

The IAAF's Race Walking Committee has previously said the quality of the women's event must improve before it can be considered for Olympic inclusion.

Choices to make

Last year the 35-year-old grappled with the decision whether he should go to the World Champs in Doha.

He had a difficult build up to the event dealing with injuries but it was also from a moral stand point.

He took issue with humans rights and governance in Qatar.

"But it is what it is, I'm glad that I went, it was kind of a tough year for me last year with injuries but to be still kind of there or there abouts, I was pretty happy with the 11th place."

He also believes it was a ridiculous decision to move the marathon and race walking events from Tokyo to Sapporo over heat concerns at such late notice.

He said there was no due process around the decision.

"Bearing in mind one of the IOC's biggest points in the case before CAS is that you can't change anything less than three years out from the Olympics. So you can't add in a women's 50k less than three years out because the programmes already set. But 10 months out they go and take five races and throw them into a completely new place without any kind of structure or planning, so it's just a farce."

He said one of the concerns was smaller countries wouldn't have the resources to duplicate all their staff and send a small army up to Sapporo.

Quentin Rew

Quentin Rew in Rio. Photo: Photosport

In Rio, Rew needed seven New Zealand support staff on the day of racing.

"Most of the countries at the Olympics aren't nearly as well supported in terms of the ability to get staff and funding to actually send them to support athletes. So while it should be alright for me, it might not be alright for say marathon runners from Lesotho or Burundi or even bigger countries like Colombia."

As for how Rew might go at this year's Olympics, Vallance said realistically, they were aiming for a top eight finish.

"Quentin's been hovering around that ninth to 16th spot … where he is in his training he's not going to take massive chunks out of his time. Ideally, we would love Quentin to prepare as best he can injury free," said Vallance.

The medallists in the 50km event have historically presented themselves a lot earlier in their career but there are exceptions.

"The silver medallist in Doha recently had not won a medal previously, and he's a few years older than Quentin too. That's the type of thing that gives hope that Quentin could be that athlete as well.

"It's also an event where disqualifications can happen, or an unseasonably warm day can throw some athletes - that could be the type of thing that could invite Quentin into a better result."

Vallance said Rew was a fantastic member of the squad and much loved by everyone in the international community.

"He's always there to help anyone who's in the squad. Obviously being a physio he's the first port of call for a lot of our visiting athletes when they're in Melbourne. He goes out of his way to provide lifts, look after them, house them if they need, feed them, provide physio support. He's a rock solid citizen for our training squad.

"He's lining up now for his third Olympics and for someone who really didn't take up the event till he was mid 20s it's quite a phenomenal achievement."